Advice for a theatre board of directors?
March 12, 2018 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Hi. I am hoping to run for a board of directors position with a theatre stage group. I am wondering what are some important skills and qualities a possible board member candidate should have in theatre and arts?

Whether it is management, artistic, public relations, fundrasing, project skills, et cetera. I am not exactly sure what kind of board skills and artistic skills I would need in the realm of the art world. I have a lot of experience in non-profit work and some in literary art magazines--only eight months experience of a board work for an environmental group in the past. Wealthy advice would be appreciated.
posted by RearWindow to Human Relations (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Any board needs strong fundraising advocates - willingness to go out to cultivate donors and assist in writing grants.
posted by Toddles at 12:03 PM on March 12 [3 favorites]

I served on the board of a small theater for several years. I won't do it again, but here's some things you should know.

Determine ahead of time the role of the board in this organization. Is it more hands-off, fundraisy stuff, or is it an active, managing board?

Either way, you need a good mix. A mentor of mine shared a guideline years ago: boards ought to have a good mix of Do-ers, Donors, and Door-openers. That's pretty self-explanatory, but the make up really does need all three types. Especially the middle one.

Insist on outside financial audits annually, even for a small org. Trust me on this. I have scars. And as long as we're on it, insist on proof of D&O insurance.

Be aware that, should the organization make very bad financial choices, or fail in some fundamental ways that are distressingly common, the board generally and board officers specifically may be liable. The insurance is KEY.
posted by uberchet at 12:05 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]

Blue Avocado has a weekly newsletters on nonprofit management - there is a wealth of resources on their website.
posted by metahawk at 12:08 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]

I've served on the board of a micro-theatre group as well as for a theatre festival. I think NFP governance and fundraising skills are the most important, and those should be generally transferable. The other important skills are mostly managerial, financial, etc.

The larger the group is, the less the board does artistic/technical stuff; there is an artistic director and they get people to do the relevant artistic tasks. If the group is of substantial size, then the artists & techs will be unionized, so you should have a sense of what that means. My experience is that theatre can be a cliquey sort of world, but it certainly doesn't have to be.

In terms of basic knowledge, you need to have a sense of the various roles in a theatre, what stage management is, what the front-of-house means and so on. (Here's one example FAQ; it lists pretty well all the possible roles except, hilariously, "actor".) Obviously you should have love for the theatre, and some knowledge of what your local theatre ecosystem is and how this group fits into it.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:52 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

@Homeboy Trouble - This is fantastic. Thank-you ever so much for this information!
posted by RearWindow at 2:20 PM on March 12

@metahawk Thank-you!
posted by RearWindow at 2:20 PM on March 12

@Toddles Well said, makes sense!
posted by RearWindow at 2:21 PM on March 12

I was on the board for a small musical organization, and it doesn't require any artistic skills at all. If I had to pick one skill, it would be the ability to diplomatically ignore the various blowhards that volunteer artistic work seems to inevitably attract. If you want to get involved in the artistic part, sure, go for it. But if you want to just work on the management and administrative side, I'm sure you will find plenty of opportunity to make an impact.
posted by wnissen at 5:25 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

To follow up on my comment, I would wager that most people who get involved with an arts organization do so to get proximity to the creative aspects. Usually the problem is finding someone to harange the artists for publicity information or run the website or find a location for an event or any of the hundred other things that need to happen before the art itself. It's rarely, "We need 6 jurors to award grants based on artistic merit", and when it is my guess is you'll find most of the board would be only too happy to have you defer to them. Honestly, you sound overqualified already.
posted by wnissen at 5:31 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]

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